Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Ladson Inbox 9/26/13


Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via

Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via

Phew.  I was running out of things to talk about lately.  Well, other than the ridiculous John Feinstein article this week or perhaps a missive on what a bunch of a-holes the Atlanta Braves seem to be.  The federal end of year cycle has consumed all my time recently, so I’ve been late to post end-of-season minor league pitcher reviews.  We’ll get there; its a long winter.

But thankfully a gift arrived via an unexpected Bill Ladson inbox dated 9/26/13.  Lets see what questions Ladson took this time around.  As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: How disappointed were you in the 2013 Nationals?

A: Not so much disappointing as frustrating; when you’ve claimed “World Series or Bust” and your team isn’t gelling correctly, why not try to do more to fix the problem mid-season?  What was the sum total of the changes this team tried to make after it was clear the team was consistently playing .500 ball?  Replace a hitting coach?  Demote a couple guys who deserved demoting?  Trade for a 25th guy/bench player?  I dunno.  Why massively increase payroll and sign luxury players like $15M closers and then do nothing when the team is clearly mired in a malaise for 4/5ths of the season?  Ladson says he was disappointed too.

Q: What do you consider the team’s greatest need in the offseason?

A: A better question may be this: where *can* you upgrade this team as it sits now?  There’s not a single starting fielder who is a FA or who really needs to be replaced.  The two worst performing hitters (Span and LaRoche) are both under contract for 2014.  I’ve already seen quotes that say that Rendon will have “competition” for 2nd base next spring; from who exactly?  Lombardozzi and his 68 OPS+ or Espinosa and his 27 OPS+?  Right.  How about the starters?  The 3 main guys are not going anywhere.  Getting rid of Detwiler would be selling very low.  It seems clear from the FA market and from the Haren experience that the team should have a #5 starter competition between RoarkJordan and Karns.   How about the bullpen?  Not really; maybe you tweak it and find a 5th or 6th guy who may pitch better than Mattheus did this year, but by and large the bulk of it already seems set (Soriano, Clippard, Stammen all seem like locks, Storen will be given a chance to rebound, one from Ohlendorf/Roark probably fits in nicely as a long-man, and your lefties Abad and Krol have both been good).  So you’re left with bullpen scrubs and the bench.  Not exactly high-impact spots to improve.

I was talking about this with friends recently; one thing I’d do if I was GM would be to sign Shin-Soo Choo.  He posted a .424 OBP with 21 homers for Cincinnati from the leadoff position this year.  Career .389 OBP.  You put him in LF (since his defense in center is atrocious) and install Harper in center where he belongs.  Dump Span somewhere, anywhere.  Instantly you get power and a significantly improved OBP at the top of your order.  The knocks on Choo are that he’s older (30 this year), that he doesn’t hit lefties (true … but his OBP split versus lefties is STILL higher than Span’s season long OBP, even given the run he’s had the last 6 weeks), and that he’ll be expensive.  A move like this likely never happens; Choo will command probably 4/$40M or more, and I doubt the team wants to pay him that much or block an OF spot given the guys coming up.

I wonder if we’re not going to see something bigger and unexpected happen.  A big trade that opens up a spot and lets the players move around.  Or a big FA signing that forces a trade of one of these entrenched players.  Because otherwise its hard to see how this team dramatically improves this off-season.   Ladsons says the team needs dependable loogies, bench and the back of the rotation.  Safe, obvious statements.

Q: Do you think Adam LaRoche will be traded after this season?

A: I don’t see it; I think LaRoche is a team favorite.  Rizzo wants plus-defenders manning the positions and that’s how he views LaRoche.  But here’s a dirty secret; LaRoche wasn’t that great this year defensively at 1st.  His UZR/150 was negative, he was ranked 18th among first basemen with more than 500 innings at the position this year, and only slightly better than the very sedentary Ryan Howard and equally glacial Chris Davis on the year.  And we have all seen his throwing arm; accurate but weak.  But if you jettison LaRoche, who’s taking him after he hit just .230 this year?  And who are you replacing him with?  The FA crop is weak; who on that list would you want?  Mike Napoli maybe?  He can rake … but he also probably earned himself a ton of dough with his performance in Boston this year.   Ladson says LaRoche is going nowhere.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals sign Michael Morse? He has been injured, and they could get him for a cheap price.

A: …. and they’d play him, where exactly?  He can play left field and first base, and last time I checked we’ve got those positions covered.  I like Michael Morse like every one in DC else but he was *awful* this year.  And he picked an awful time to do it; age 31, in a contract year, playing in the relative media obscurity of Seattle.  If he had just hit a couple bombs down the stretch for Baltimore, maybe that would have helped.  Now you have to wonder if he’s just looking at a minor league deal.  Would the team consider him for a bench role?  Probably not, he likely still considers himself a starter and may not handle the bench well.  Ladson says it isn’t happening.

Q: Is Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats next year just a rumor or a realistic possibility?

A: Just a rumor.  What experience does Ripken have managing?  He’s not like other former players like Don Mattingly (who cut his chops watching the great Joe Torre for years in New York) or Ryne Sandberg (who worked his way up the minors and earned his job in Philadelphia).  I’d be worried about him being completely out of his element.  What proof is there that he can handle a pitching staff or manage a game?  Give me a serious, experienced, no-nonsense guy to manage this team and get the guys in line after this year’s season-long drift.  Give me Matt Williams.  Ladson says it isn’t going to be Ripken.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in signing Robinson Cano?

A: Not at these prices; he reportedly wants 10yrs/$305M!!  And already turned down 6/$144M.  Phew.   I wouldn’t pay him $24M/year in his decline years.  He’s no doubt a great player; is he that good?  Whoever signs him (Dodgers?) is going to really, really regret any deal longer than 6 years.  Well, unless it IS the Dodgers, who may make a complete mockery of the game in the next few years in terms of payroll.  Fun fact: The Dodgers already are committed to $165M in payroll next year … for just ELEVEN players.  They still have to handle arbitration for Clayton Kershaw (who may command $20M) and fill out the rest of the lineup.    Ladson also mentions this contract demand.

Q: How about Jayson Werth as player-manager next year? It worked for the Senators, after all, with Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin.

A: Well, if we don’t Cal Ripken can manage, what makes you think Werth has any such qualifications either?  Baseball has come an awfully long way from the days where teams thought a player/manager was a workable idea.  Now a-days, the money involved and egos involved almost necessitate an experienced, veteran guy for nearly every team.  Ladson thinks Werth would make a great manager.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of the Nats’ struggles this season, and do you think they will be better next year?

A: (see upcoming blog post that I’ll hit “publish” on when the season is over).  Ladson says in order injuries, bullpen, bench, and St. Louis.

Q: At this point, how would you handicap the likely 2014 Nats managerial candidates?

A: Who knows.  Is this really the pressing issue on the minds of Nats fans like Ladson makes it out to be?   Somehow I don’t think its going to be anyone on the current field staff (sorry Randy Knorr).  I think it will be either a big-name manager who gets the axe this off-season unexpectedly (Mike Scioscia or Joe Girardi would be decent choices) or a former player that Rizzo knows (which is why I keep coming back to Matt Williams).  Ladson says Knorr is the leader but also mentions Williams and Trent Jewett.


15 Responses to 'Ladson Inbox 9/26/13'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Ladson Inbox 9/26/13'.

  1. Agree on LaRoche; he was very below average offensively and defense is not a premium at 1st.
    But who would take him at his salary?

    The great Dick Allen said it best about playing 1st.
    When asked about defense at 1st he said “you know how you play defense…. you hit!”
    And he did…. career .912 OPS

    Mark L

    27 Sep 13 at 7:48 am

  2. You know, I’ve been looking for the source of that quote for quite a while. Now I know! Dick Allen.

    Todd Boss

    27 Sep 13 at 8:47 am

  3. Joe Girardi is actually a free agent after this season. I’d be pretty cheesed if Rizzo didn’t at least call the guy’s agent and kick the tires. He’s my #1 choice – he already had a MOY with the Marlins, and I think may have done his best managing job with the duct tape and baling wire roster the Yankees had this year. Girardi has ties as a player to the Yankees and Cubs, and grew up in Chicago, so those are the top two spots. But the Yankees may well be about to go on a serious rebuilding cycle (for the first time in 20 years), and the Cubs have some promise but are staring up at the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals. If Girardi wants a shot at winning now, the Nationals may be enticing.

    John C.

    27 Sep 13 at 11:26 am

  4. Your last point was the best point; Nats far more likely to win in 2014 than New York. And that may be a good consideration. Will that outweigh the fact that the job of “New York Yankees Manager” is clearly the most prestigous managerial title in the game for Girardi?

    Me, i’m convinced Rizzo will reach back once again to his Arizona roots and pluck Matt Williams to be the manager. Veteran player, accomplished, and he has years of experience coaching a MLB team. And supporting this was a little report I saw fly by about the state of the Arizona staff after this season’s disappointing finish.

    Todd Boss

    27 Sep 13 at 1:41 pm

  5. Shin Soo Choo – it is hard to think about something like that without knowing the cost. There are several reports that he’ll get $100m+ (and Boras saying that is pathetically low, of course). I don’t think that they should be worried about blocking someone organizationally, but dollars matter. 4/$40m? In a heart beat. 6/$110m? No way.

    Cano – please NO. That is mainly an expectation on what the contract will be.

    Morse – if they could sign him to the tyler Moore role for $3m, I’d do it. And if he tries for more and understands that his current market is bench guy, I’d guess that he would accept a bench role without much grief. We might be the best of that kind of situation, because he could conceivably see more ABs as a platoon for ALR or Span (sliding Harper to CF).

    Offseason move – how about this one. Use Rendon as the centerpiece for a Price deal. I know that we have to add a lot more, but it could then free us up to trade JZimm for a parcel of prospects. The hidden flaw in our seasonal autopsy is that our ‘Big Three’ fell off a decent amount from 2012 – down about 3 WAR. JZimm is coming off his best season and might be the most marketable relative to his actual value. Wouldn’t Oakland like to get JZimm to head the rotation for two years relatively cheaply, and pay up for the privilege? Addison Russell might be in the package coming back.

    Hard for me to care that much about the next manager. i am more interested in the players.


    27 Sep 13 at 3:16 pm

  6. John C. brings up something I hadn’t thought of. Joe Girardi will be the best available manager come November. Now it’s probably going to be Chicago or N.Y but Rizzo has to at least give it a shot.

    Mark L

    27 Sep 13 at 7:57 pm

  7. I’ve been looking around for some Price to the Nats rumors also and figured Rendon would be a good centerpiece. How about Rendon, T. Jordan, and Karns for Price?

    Andrew R

    27 Sep 13 at 9:12 pm

  8. Andrew – I think that is probably an offer that gets some thought, at least. Rizzo probably doesn’t do it unless he spins off something else to restock but that would really be a rotation to carry you carry a subpar line up. Hate to lose Jordan, though.


    28 Sep 13 at 10:15 am

  9. Rendon should go nowhere! He needs to be put at second and left there.
    The real problem with the Nats this year is retiring after the season. The hiring of the next manager will be the biggest and most important decision of Rizzo’s time as GM. He needs to get either Giradi or someone of his caliber for the job.


    28 Sep 13 at 3:20 pm

  10. The team’s maddening downfall before igniting was manufacturing runs, sitting on leads and watching them erode, hitting with runners in scoring position and the infuriating inability to come back from behind. Whatever character was injected into the 2012 version, it did not translate into 2013. And then there was Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, and Dan Haren.

    As for other aspects of the team, health was a problem and those things happen. Depth helps and our replacements at the farm level did not make a large difference (other than a brief Rendon spark) the way Bryce Harper did in 2012, until Roark arrived (too late).

    With that said, some thoughts about a few players of note:

    Span – Trade him. His value is as good as it will get, and an upgrade is possible, either within the system (Bryce Harper) or in a return. I don’t see him being resigned after next year, because I think by then Steven Souza (no, not Goodwin) will emerge as the appropriate next choice as a starting OF for a championship-minded team.

    LaRoche – Trade him. I don’t see a World Series motivated team abiding the risk of him. I wish Moore gave us more reason for confidence. Perhaps Abreu is the answer. I keep recalling how Rizzo went all in for Prince Fielder, and wonder whether he thinks that Fielder on the 2012 Nats would have meant a 2012 title.

    Corey Brown – I really hope they keep him and make him a 4th OF. He has power, can steal a base, is excellent defensively, can pinch hit, and does not take plays off. His ceiling is higher than Bernadina, not that that’s saying much.

    Sandy Leon – I’d like to see him as the backup catcher, not Solano. Bad as his season was, he is an ML defensive catcher and handles pitchers extremely well. I don;t think Solano would outhit him given the same opportunity.

    Bryce Harper – Too much of a competitor to not make a big leap forward next year.

    Anthony Rendon – Keep him. Considering he skipped AAA, played very little in the minors, and took on a new position, and considering his age, I think he is one of five players (Harper being another, Storen, Strasburg, and Gio the others, that I think we should anticipate a big leap forward statistically next year. People expected him to hit like he did in spring training, and after he demonstrated that he would not, this year, forgot that he capable of hitting that well.

    Nathan Karns – Let him show what he can do in AAA first. I would not consider him a candidate for the fifth starter, moreso than such talk increases his trade value. Caleb Clay put together excellent numbers for a bad AAA team. He is an overlooked name that I do not think will get the 5th starter job, but who will get his shot in the spring and join Karns in a AAA rotation (along with Rosenbaum, Treinen, and yes, Cole) that is a huge leap forward from the flotsam of Maya, Mandel, Tatsuko, Chris Young, and co. Which brings me to…

    Ross Ohlendorf – It does not hurt to sign him and to give him a chance to be a long reliever in the spring. I think he will sign where he can be a starter, and I do not think he will be back for that reason.

    Tanner Roark – It’s hard not to see how Davey is pushing his opportunity for starter #5 next year. He has less to prove than does Taylor Jordan. For a team that aims for a #6 starter, his versatility almost disadvantages him to the bullpen if Taylor Jordan continues to mature, Detwiler heals and all things are equal next spring. But he is so here to stay, unless he is trade bait in a Price or other deal for an all-star caliber pitcher. We all love Roark, and some might regard a trade of him to be selling him high.

    Taylor Jordan – Of course, Roark could beat him out in the spring, in which case he goes to AAA to join a very talented rotation and excellent depth racing to be the first talented arm called up. Or he could be highly valued trade bait in a Brad Peacock way. Hard not to like a guy who pulled off what he did this year though. His pitching coach at AA had so much confidence in him (mentally) that it will be interesting to see whether that was blowing smoke for Yankee-style hype, or whether it reflects organizational thinking.

    Ross Detwiler – Can’t sell him low. Hard not to hope that he can put it together. But you can’t win a championship with his 2013 year.

    Rafael Soriano – I have never felt like his attitude has been good for the team. but he was a more stable option for the closer role this year than were the 2012 folks. If he would bring a centerpiece player or the kind of haul that Morse did, especially a key position player like Wilson Ramos became, I’d welcome sending him out.

    Wilson Ramos – We’re all rooting for him to be healthy all year next year. And if he is, hard not to see him evolve into a 30/100 guy. Wow. But Gary Carter is not forgotten.

    Speed – I cannot help but think that with folks with Kobernus and Perez having nothing more to prove in AAA, and Burns getting a lot of love from the organization, that the high-speed game, particularly in later innings when one run is needed, has to be a dimension the bench can bring. All things being equal, Lombardozzi is a very capable pinch hitter and a legit major leaguer, but this town isn’t big enough for him and Kobernus, who has never had a chance to prove pinch-hitting prowess.

    Danny Espinosa – Some team with a yen for him will try to get him, and I hope that it’s a team that pulls him as part of a multiple-player package with excellent talent that the Nats use to get a major piece they can actually use. I’ll be surprised if he is part of the team next spring. But hey, Adam Dunn survived his 2012 (albeit with quite an unmoveable contract).

    Philosophically, I think the organization is gearing up for another multiple pitching prospect deal for a Gio type deal. Rizzo just kept collecting pitching prospects, and the haul in recent drafts, the minor league signings of Clay and Tyler Herron, and the maturation of the Dominicans will give him more confidence to use the farm system as he should.


    29 Sep 13 at 12:09 am

  11. Rendon, Jordan and Karns for Price. Hmm. Is that enough? That’s one former BA top 25 guy (Rendon), one ML player of the year (Karns) and one out-of-nowhere guy who looks like he could be a 4th starter (Jordan).

    Here was Tampa’s last major trade: Shields, Wade Davis and Eliot Johnson as a ptbnl for Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard, Jake Odorizzi. Look at this list of prospects that Tampa got back and ask yourself if you think Rendon/Jordan/Karns is equivalent talent. Because Price > Shields even considering the throwin guys Davis (long reliever/failed #5 starter) and Johnson (well below replacement level utility infielder).

    I don’t think it is. I don’t think Washington has the prospect depth that Tampa wants. I think any deal for price probably includes Washington’s best three pitching prospects. Cole, Ray, Giolito out the door.

    Todd Boss

    29 Sep 13 at 8:59 am

  12. Kc was crazy last year and I think the verdict is out that they got fleeced. So, lets assume TB wants to move Price, what are the options? Texas trading Profar and Perez seems to be thrown out there – that’s not better than rendon, karns, and tj. The cards can probably put together a big package but I can’t see them including Tavares (and he is hurt). The RedSox could put together a package, but I can’t see TB dealing with them (or the yanks, O’s, or Jays). Dbacks perhaps?

    Anyway, I think the Nats and Rays stack up well as trade partners. Maybe they trade out Giolito for Jordan in the proposed trade. But who would they go against to up the ante much more for two years of Price? Maybe add a few lesser names like kobernus, eury, Sousa, etc. it would be an embarrassingly good pitching staff for ’14.


    29 Sep 13 at 9:19 am

  13. I don’t see a deal for Price. Why trade for a person with Cy Young pedigree when you can get a person on the rise (like Gio) that scouts feel is young, controllable and not yet at his potential? I think Rizzo saw the Span of August-September rather than the San of the first few months, again, getting a controllable but slightly undervalued and cheap commodity. To me, the Price chatter is more a by-product of the presumption that TB has a surplus, and so can provide the Nats with a replaceable star. But it’s a fan rumor rather than reflective of where the team is at and their view of the league. Also, TB is a notoriously inequitable trade partner and Rizzo has his favorites.

    The Gio deal was more like what we should expect. A team willing to move a highly valued left-handed starter that the Nats feel will get even better, and who is still ascending rather than potentially peaked.

    I don’t see Rendon going in such a trade. And I think the Nats are just as likely to pull a trigger on a deal for an everyday player like an elite level 1B. If such a trade resolves the future of Espinosa and Tyler Moore, so much the better.

    I also think the wild card here is how much the Nats truly value their own talent vs. hyping it. Two years ago, we viewed Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock as a hit to the farm system and Cole as the biggest pain. Now, the deal looks great and the talent evaluation was correct.

    Matt Purke is a great example of what we don’t know and how that will affect trade discussions. He is going to the AFL. To be showcased to get what we can for him as a sexy name? Quite possibly. Or because when he is finally a couple of years removed from surgery, that he is a quick-to-the-majors prospect that obviates the need for a mega deal for a left-handed starter (with apologies to Robbie Ray)? What is to become of Matt Skole, for example? Does he have enough value in the organization or do the Nats acquire someone to hold down 1B?

    Lower minors players are more of a crapshoot. Cole from lower A was easier to give, as was Meyer from high A, because they were lower rung players. Once you are dealing with AA players such as the ones mentioned here with demonstrated success, no way does the organization view Robbie Ray as it did Alex Meyer. As the Twins GM said of acquiring Meyer, “you have to trade for a player like that at a lower level because at a higher level the price is too high.” So we may be overvaluing our talent, but three highly successful AA arms in such a deal is undervaluing the talent. It takes me back to the Mark Langston and Bartolo Colon fiascos. Rizzo is wiser than that.


    29 Sep 13 at 12:29 pm

  14. Tampa wants and needs to trade Price for one simple reason: they need to get something for him before he departs via free agency and they get nothing for him (past a denied qualifying offer, good for about a 32nd overall pick). Tampa knows someone out there will give up multiple close-to-the-majors prospects for a former Cy Young winner, and its just about figuring out what that best deal is.

    If Texas offered me Profar and Perez and one other guy for Price right now, I’d probably take it. Profar/Perez is really close to the deal of players they got for Shields; a top-top ranked prospect and a very good pitching prospect. Yes I think that’s better than Rendon/Karns/Jordan. Rendon was never as highly regarded as a minor league prospect as Profar, and Profar can play a more valuable position at SS. Perez meanwhile rates as a better pitching prospect than either Karns or Jordan.

    But you mention it at the end. Will David Price fix what ailed the team in 2013? .

    Todd Boss

    30 Sep 13 at 8:34 am

  15. I think Choo is now going to be way over priced after the ridiculous contract the Giants gave Hunter Pence. Talk about an over pay. Michael Bourn and Swisher got $48m and $52m and somehow they valued Hunter at $90m? Nearly twice as much as either of them? I know qualifying offers “hurt” Bourn and Swisher some and Choo will definitely have a qualifying offer placed on him but I don’t see him signing for anything less than BJ Upton money.

    I guess you have to evaluate how much Choo’s skill set will erode and if that money is worth it. Choo’s OBP shouldn’t drop much because he is a patient hitter and doesn’t rely on his legs to beat out infield/bunt hits like Bourn has to. His power may dip but if you are signing him for a leadoff hitter to play a corner OF slot and pushing Harper to CF the power won’t matter that much. If he drops from a 20 homer guy to a 12-15 homer guy it won’t kill you if Harper is hitting 30 homers in CF. I think if I was the GM I would take advantage of Span’s nice run at the end of the season and deal him while his value isn’t rock bottom and pony up $75m for Choo.

    The team needs to go after Scott Downs, J.P. Howell or Javier Lopez this offseason. Abad and Krol were ok but neither was as good as Sean Burnett was and it hurt us a few times. You can keep Abad and sign one of the free agents and stash Krol at AAA in case of injury.

    Another starting pitcher may be necesarry too. Detwiler is far from a lock health wise with the number of injuries he has had over his career. The team can get away with one of Jordan/Karns/Roark but I don’t think you want to push it in ’14 with 2 of them in the rotation. There are several guys like Scott Baker, Lincecum and others who will sign shorter term deals that could start the season as the 5th starter and hopefully provide some value. I know people are tired of this approach but I still believe Roark is a bit of a mirage and is best suited as depth and not in a featured role.

    A 25 Man roster like this would suit me fine:

    Choo – LF
    Zim – 3b
    Werth – RF
    Harper – CF
    Desmond – SS
    LaRoche – 1B
    Ramos – C
    Rendon – 2B

    Brown or LHed outfielder via free agency
    insert backup catcher via free agency.

    Scott Baker/Jason Vargas/Scott Feldman or other FA.


    AAA would have Espinosa, Perez, Walters, Kobernus, Solano and some others to cover injuries to position players. It would also have Karns, Jordan, Caleb Clay, Ian Krol, Xavier Cedeno and Eric Davis to cover pitcher injuries. Not to mention AJ Cole, Robbie Ray and others at the AA level. Jordan and Karns will get their chances in the majors I’m sure because injuries happen. Ohlendorf, Roark, Jordan and Karns made 24 starts combined this season. If they look good then you have more confidence in 2015 but I just don’t think a world series contender goes into the season with one of them.


    30 Sep 13 at 12:04 pm

Leave a Reply